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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 16th September 2010|
Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates
Draft Scottish Parliament (Constituencies and Regions) Order 2010
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Eliot Barrass, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Welcome to the Chair, Mrs Main. I think that this is your first order, as it is for me and other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, but we also have some very experienced hands present, so I am sure that they will keep us aright.
Given that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland is present, it is appropriate to acknowledge his contribution to the papal visit that is taking place in the United Kingdom over the next few days. I very much look forward to seeing the Pope in Edinburgh tomorrow.
As hon. Members may recall, the Boundary Commission for Scotland recently completed its first review of Scottish Parliament boundaries as required by the Scotland Act 1998. The commission submitted its “Report on the First Periodic Review of Scottish Parliament Boundaries” to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 26 May 2010, and a copy was laid before the Scottish Parliament and this Parliament on the same day. The commission’s report was accompanied by two DVD-ROMs containing geographical information system data defining the constituency boundaries. Those are referred to as “the deposited data” in article 2 of the order.
That approach was necessary because a number of the recommended Scottish Parliament constituencies have boundaries that do not follow existing local government ward boundaries in Scotland. Previous constituencies have been made up of complete local government wards that are defined in existing legislation and can be referred to by listing the ward names. The level of detail required to define the constituency boundaries means that the boundaries could not practically be shown on traditional maps at an appropriate scale. The local government wards and part wards that fall within the constituencies are listed in the appendices to the Boundary Commission report. The master copies of the DVD-ROMs have been deposited with the Secretary of State for safekeeping. Reference copies have been deposited with the Boundary Commission for Scotland, and copies are also available in the Library of each House.
The Scotland Act also requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament as soon as practicable after receipt of the report the draft of an Order in Council
I acknowledge that there have been concerns about some of the Boundary Commission’s recommendations and those have been raised with Ministers, but I emphasise that Ministers have no powers to direct the commission to make changes to its recommendations or to amend the boundaries or any of its other recommendations through the order. The Boundary Commission is an independent and impartial body, and its statutory consultation and local public inquiry process allowed for consideration of representations and concerns about its proposals raised by politicians, local authorities and others during the review.
Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman supports the idea of Ministers not being able to intervene in Boundary Commission proposals. Does he feel comfortable about reading across that view to other legislation that takes away most of the discretion that the Boundary Commission will have in the redrawing of Westminster boundaries?
David Mundell: I thank the right hon. Lady for the point. She will know that the legislation proposed in this Parliament for redrawing constituency boundaries will come to the Floor of the House and all right hon. and hon. Members, including her, will have the right to raise such issues in that context. However, there are no plans at the moment to change the procedures for the Scottish Parliament boundary review process.
David Mundell: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that elections administration is under consideration in the Calman process as a matter that could be further transferred to the Scottish Parliament. At present, however, the UK Government have no plans to change the process for the Boundary Commission reviews in Scotland for Scottish Parliament boundaries. The matter, in relation to Westminster boundaries, will be debated extensively when legislation on new constituency boundaries is debated on the Floor of the House of Commons.
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I am intrigued by what the Minister has said. Will he confirm that the Government believe it to be entirely appropriate to do away with local inquiries for Westminster constituencies in Scotland, as well as in the rest of the UK, but their policy is to maintain such inquiries for Scottish parliamentary constituencies? Will he explain the different principles that led him to support that contradictory policy?
David Mundell: I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it is not a contradictory policy. As he is aware, the proposal that is set forth in the new legislation is a complete and new process, which contains other stages and processes that are different from the existing one. It has much to commend it and it will be debated extensively
Tom Greatrex: I am sorry to labour the point, but given what the Minister has said, is it not he who has responsibility for the administration of Scottish elections? Whether to abolish local inquiries for Scottish Parliament boundaries would, therefore, be his call. Is he suggesting that that is what he will do in the fullness of time?
David Mundell: I am suggesting that the Boundary Commission has completed the consultation process and today we are discussing whether the order to replace Scottish Parliament boundaries should be accepted. Determining what procedures are followed in Scotland is a matter for the future. We will, as I have said, debate it extensively on the Floor of the House—[ Interruption. ] I am sure that it will be demonstrated that the new process has much to commend itself.
The Chair: Order. Before I invite the hon. Lady to make her remarks to the Minister, may I ask that fewer comments are made from a sedentary position? It is difficult and distracting for the Minister, and it makes things difficult for Hansard.
David Mundell: The proposals offer a helpful and speedy process for dealing with boundary issues and concerns. It is obvious from the body politic in Scotland that the boundary changes, about which there are strong public feelings, cannot slip through without being extensively debated.
I have explained that the order gives effect, without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the commission’s report. It defines the name, status and area of 71 of the 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies, and the name and area of each Scottish Parliament region. The Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands constituencies were excluded from the scope of the review because schedule 1 to the Scotland Act 1998 provides for them directly.
The order must be approved by both Houses before being made by Her Majesty in Council. Subject to its approval, it will come into force on the day after it is made, which we envisage being some time in November.
The boundary changes will not affect the Scottish Parliament, or elections to the Scottish Parliament, until the next general election to the Scottish Parliament, whether it is an ordinary or an extraordinary general election. Neither will they affect any by-election held before the Dissolution of the Scottish Parliament.
The Scotland Office consulted electoral administrators and the Electoral Commission over the proposed timings of the Boundary Commission’s final report and of the commencement of the order. Following that consultation, administrators agreed to start the necessary preparatory work in advance of the legislation coming into force, given the proximity to the next general election to the Scottish Parliament in May 2011.
Margaret Curran (Glasgow East) (Lab): Is the Minister satisfied with the timing? It appears that the six-month deadline has been missed, which could cause some difficulties for the Scottish Parliament elections.
David Mundell: I thank the hon. Lady for that important question. It ill behoves me to pass responsibility to the previous Government for some of the timetabling issues, but part of the reason is that we had the general election process, which delayed the ability to bring orders forward. However, what we have done, in accordance with the practices of the previous Government, is to share all the information with the professionals in electoral registration and with the parties in Scotland. The interim election management board in Scotland has had details of all the procedures being followed, in relation not just to the order but also to other proposed orders in respect of the Scottish Parliament elections. Everyone is aware of what is to happen and is proceeding on that basis.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): May I rewind us a little, to the mention in article 2 of the DVD-ROMs for holding information? Could the information be made available to candidates’ agents and other interested parties—there might be a technical issue about MasterMap licences, resulting in a cost of many millions of pounds if it was not available—and thus aid a democracy to work?
In early June I wrote to the Scottish Government’s Minister for Parliamentary Business and to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, among others, informing them of the proposed timetable for the legislation. The Scotland Office also consulted electoral administrators on the impact and risk of the boundary changes being applied to any extraordinary general election called between the legislation coming into force and 5 May 2011, and on the impact of having to run any Scottish Parliament by-elections between 1 December and 5 February, the latest a by-election could be held in the Scottish Parliament on the old boundaries. Administrators supported the running of an extraordinary Scottish Parliament general election after 1 December on the basis of the new boundaries. As for by-elections, the administrators’ view was that there was a localised risk in respect of the register but it could be managed should the need occur.
We will keep partners informed of the proposed timing of the commencement of the legislation and, subject to the order being made, we will write to them in due course, to confirm the commencement date.
As the Minister said, it is his first outing of this nature, and I wish him well—personally—in how he conducts his business. I know that he understands I have no malevolent intention in hoping that, politically, he has a relatively short period in which he carries out that business. I also thank him for his kind words at the
Although I welcome the Minister to his first outing in Committee, I was struck by the careful way in which he presented a rather inconsistent case in answer to the questions posed by my hon. Friends. I welcome other members of the Committee, including my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow East and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun. If they catch your eye, Mrs Main, I am sure they will declare an interest in the entire process as two Members with a dual mandate and a dual interest. It is also great to see so many Back Benchers from the Conservative party dutifully attending today. As they look through the draft order, I hope that they find the maps of Scotland informative. It is a shame that there is not a map showing all of Scotland so that they can get a sense of the entire layout of the country.
Mrs Main, you have already seen in the first few minutes of our proceedings the unique culture in which Scottish MPs joust with or lambast one another. I hope that you will authorise the traditional leeway in the culture of Scottish politics.
I would like to ask the Minister a number of questions. He may wish to respond today or he may wish to write to all members of the Committee about some of them. He quite rightly spoke about his assessment of when the order would come into effect, and he said November. I wonder whether I can push him a little further. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has already done so. It is my understanding that the Gould report said that any changes to electoral administration in advance of the Scottish Parliament election should take place at least six months before polling day. The right hon. Gentleman has already said that it would be November. Unless he has the order in place by Guy Fawkes night, he will have missed the recommendation put forward by Ron Gould. Will he respond to that this afternoon rather than in writing, because the commencement date is an important point as we are invited to agree the order today? Is it within the Gould recommendations?
On the wider points about public inquiries, which have been an important part of the process, I have a number of questions. I attended a public inquiry in my own local authority, trying to defend the fantastic town of Barrhead and the remarkable village of Neilston in the East Renfrewshire parliamentary constituency. For the Scottish Parliament, unfortunately, the recommendation in the inquiry took a different view. I did not think that the recommendation made any sense, and neither did the people of Barrhead and Neilston. Nevertheless, the principle is important. Will the right hon. Gentleman share with the Committee his insight into how many local inquiries were held throughout Scotland as part of the process?
Mrs McGuire: Despite the fact that my right hon. Friend obviously did not have his case accepted, did both he and the people who made the representations to the Committee value the process by which an external independent tribunal, which had no axe to grind, cast an objective eye over the proposals?
Mr Murphy: My right hon. Friend is, as usual, right on the money. The local inquiry process was an important part of the organic nature in which some of the proposals were amended. There were local inquiries—I have asked the right hon. Gentleman how many he thinks there were. Certainly there were inquiries in Aberdeen East, in West Lothian, in the west of Scotland and in my own constituency of East Renfrewshire. I know that the Minister was asked by my hon. Friends about whether he valued the local inquiry process and what he thought of it. To be entirely charitable to the right hon. Gentleman, he was not forthcoming in his opinion on whether local inquiries were a good or a bad thing. May I tempt him to answer whether he believes in principle that local inquiries are a strong point in the process as the boundaries are reviewed? I come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman believes that public inquiries are a good thing in principle, because he called for, attended and gave evidence to a local inquiry in his area. Would he like to take the opportunity now, or when winding up, to say whether he believes in principle that local inquiries are an important part of the process?
David Mundell: I shall answer the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I did take part in a local inquiry, and the other people there were supporters of the Conservative and Labour parties. Few, if any, members of the public were engaged directly in that process.
While the inquiry process in Scotland has been a valuable part of the Boundary Commission’s work, there are other ways to do things, and the proposals in the legislation currently before Parliament have much to commend them. I am satisfied that in Scotland, if there are contentious changes to boundaries, the public will still be able to make their voice heard just as loudly as politicians.
Mr Murphy: There was certainly some clarity to that answer. As far I can understand, the Minister attended a public inquiry and gave evidence there. He was successful in his argument in that inquiry, but he wishes to abolish public inquiries because not enough people get involved. That seems to be an argument for publicising and highlighting public inquiries and for encouraging involvement, rather than abolishing the right of local people to play their part in them. I think the right hon. Gentleman is, in principle, pretty dismissive of those probably thousands of people who gave evidence in writing and in person to the inquiries and of the work that they carried out and the energy that they expended on it. He may not be aware, but almost 1,300 submissions were received in Ayrshire and central Scotland alone in these public inquiries. The right hon. Gentleman wishes to discount or dismiss them, but they are an important part of democracy and the way in which we make changes.
Margaret Curran: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way; I am still trying to learn all this new terminology. He is right to point out that I should of course declare an interest as a current Member of the Scottish Parliament.
I would like to follow up the point about the inquiry process. One of its fundamental principles, which has not been adequately addressed by the Minister, is that it allows distortions to be ironed out. For example, one of the conclusions of a number of the inquiries was that if we had too strict an adherence to the quota, we could end up creating very difficult situations locally, which I know the Minister had some difficulty with. For example, there was a proposal from the Boundary Commission to split the town of Dumfries, which would not have been a natural response at all. There was a lot of local concern about that, and it was the inquiry process that allowed the distortion and mistake to be ironed out. If we did not have the inquiry process, not only would it be difficult to iron out those distortions, but if we were too strict with the numerical quota, we could end up creating absurdities throughout Scotland. We want to avoid that if possible in any election process. As a matter of principle, I think it is vital that Westminster learns from the process of the Scottish Parliament, which learnt a great deal in that. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that learning from that experience will be incorporated into any further processes at Westminster.
I want to proceed a little further for a moment or two on the issue of public inquiries. I was struck by the right hon. Gentleman saying that basically, the only people who turned up—I paraphrase, but I think can do so accurately—were Labour and Tory party apparatchiks, including him. That was the basis of his dismissal of his own local inquiry. I will, after today’s proceedings, make inquiries as to whether that was the case; that only Labour and Tory party people turned up, and no local organisations or individuals turned up to give evidence to that public inquiry.
David Mundell: I want to gently correct the impression the right hon. Gentleman is giving in his usual attempt to distort remarks. What I made clear in my remarks was that party political activists were at the core of the debate in the inquiry in which I was involved. That was my point, not that there were no other people present or that no other people gave evidence.
Mr Murphy: That tone of dismissal of local inquiries from is significantly different from his earlier one. The right hon. Gentleman was at his local inquiry, so I am sure he knows better than anyone else present, but my understanding is that the local council and the community council gave evidence at his local inquiry. I do not believe that local and community councils in his constituency are party apparatchiks or party motivated. However, that is for him to reconcile with those councils, not with me.
On local inquiries, I want to press the Minister a little further, and ask for a response in his winding up. Have public inquiries improved the outcome of the process in Scotland? To take one example, although there are many, one suggestion for the west of Scotland
Finally, turning away from local inquiries, I have one or two other quick questions, on which the Minister might wish to correspond with the entire Committee. Once the order comes into force, how many boundaries will be more than the 5% off the desired quota set out by the Boundary Commission? Is he concerned about the number beyond that threshold? That is the driving force behind the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill currently before the House. Can he reflect on how many are above or below that 5% threshold?
Secondly, how do Falkirk and Dunfermline meet the criteria for being county seats, not burgh seats, as set out in schedule 1? Lastly, how many seats have changed from being classed as county to burgh as a result of the changes?
I accept that the couple of questions towards the end might have been a little technical, but the main thrust of my questions is about the glaring inconsistency of the approach taken in redrawing the boundaries for the Scottish Parliament with the proposals in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
My main question concerns how it is right for the Minister to turn up to a public inquiry in his own constituency, with the local council and community councils, how it is right for 1,300 people in Ayrshire to be able to give written submissions to a public inquiry and how it is right for the Scottish Parliament, and yet the Minister wishes to abolish that right for every citizen of Great Britain—of the United Kingdom—in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill? Does he not understand the glaring double standards and difference of approach? Surely we should have consistency in such an important matter, the redrawing of boundaries, which is so core to the nature and impartiality of our democracy?
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I hope you are enjoying the unique atmosphere that is often present in Scottish Statutory Instrument Committees—and, indeed, in Scottish questions.
I would like to echo some of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire when encouraging the Committee to be inspired to holiday in Scotland. If the Committee will indulge me and look at page 12, I spent a happy few days this summer walking from green constituency No. 2 to the top of the page, which is the West Highland Way, starting in my constituency at Milngavie and ending at Fort William.
I support the order, given that the Boundary Commission has undertaken a great deal of work and although no outcome will be entirely perfect. There will still be niggles here and there, and people unhappy with the outcome. The job is a difficult one to do. No solution is perfect. However, I hope that the Minister will bring one issue to the attention of boundary commissions in future—the naming of constituencies. I appreciate that
One way in which we ensured that there was sense in the new boundaries was through public inquiries. Is the hon. Lady in favour of public inquiries giving an objective assessment of whether the Boundary Commission has got it right, not only for Scottish parliamentary seats, but for UK parliamentary seats?
Jo Swinson: The right hon. Lady makes her point forcefully. Public inquiries are a useful way in which the public can have their say, but they are not the only way. She is right that greater sense was brought to the boundaries by the 2005 review, which resulted in the Liberal Democrats taking the seat of East Dunbartonshire from Labour—that was clearly a sensible move.
Mrs McGuire: Actually, that was not on my watch. The hon. Lady says that the public inquiry is not the only method whereby Boundary Commission proposals that do not meet the needs and aspirations of local people can be challenged, but what is her alternative?
Jo Swinson: We are here to discuss the statutory instrument, but the right hon. Lady is steering us towards the Bill being discussed in the House. I understand that people will be entitled to put forward their views on the Boundary Commission’s initial proposals in two iterations. It is important that people are able to put forward their views and that the Boundary Commission has the advantage of considering them before making its final decision.
I return to the naming of constituencies, which I was attempting to raise. It is not always possible to keep towns as whole entities within boundaries. Page 13 of the order shows the Scottish Parliament boundaries for the area that I represent. The constituency numbered 4 and shown in pink is called Strathkelvin and Bearsden, but half of Bearsden is in the constituency of Clydebank and Milngavie, which is numbered 2 and shown in green. That might cause confusion because a Bearsden resident might assume that they live in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency. I have experienced such confusion because a chunk of the East Dunbartonshire council area is not in my constituency of East Dunbartonshire.
Mr Harris: I fully support the hon. Lady’s defence of the integrity of identifiable communities in relation to electoral boundaries. Will she make those points as strongly on the Floor of the House when we debate measures that will throw all such local authority and community boundaries out of the window? She is making that defence for the Scottish Parliament, but not for this one.
Jo Swinson: I ask the hon. Gentleman to listen a little more carefully because I have accepted that even under the current legislation it is not always possible for towns to be entirely in one constituency. Indeed, the East Dunbartonshire council area is too large to be a single constituency and it makes sense for it to be split between two constituencies. However, confusion can arise from the name. People regularly turn up at my constituency advice surgery who are actually constituents of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont). Given the convention of MPs not taking on casework for other Members, that can cause delay and confusion for constituents. Even when towns have to be split, the Boundary Commission can ensure that there is clarity in the naming of constituencies so as not to cause confusion. I have given two examples from my area and I am sure that there is similar confusion elsewhere. Even where geographical and community boundaries cannot be entirely stuck to—I appreciate that that is not always possible—at least constituents have the best possible chance of knowing who their elected representative is. I hope that the Minister will take those points on board.
Cathy Jamieson: I declare an interest as I am still the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in the Scottish Parliament. I welcome the opportunity today to discuss this important issue. We have the opportunity to put on the record a few areas where I think the Boundary Commission did a good job, and also where the public inquiry process assisted in ensuring that local people and local communities had the opportunity to have their say.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire took the opportunity to invite people to her part of the world. If any Members want to come to Ayrshire, they will find it on page 17. It is a very pleasant place across all the constituencies.
Cathy Jamieson: Perhaps I should not pass comment on my right hon. Friend’s intervention. The serious point is that the existing Scottish Parliament constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley covered three Westminster constituencies and two local authorities, and there were two local authority wards split between Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency and Ayr and Central Ayrshire constituency. As the Committee can see, it was a bit of a mixture. The logic of trying to tidy that up made sense. There were 65,000 electors in that particular constituency, so in arithmetical terms the number was well over the quota that had been set. It would have been sensible for the Boundary Commission to look at the local authority wards, which were split, to do the tidying-up exercise, because arithmetically that would have done the job.
However, the proposal from the Boundary Commission ripped up local communities, splitting rather than reuniting the different parts of the royal borough of Ayr, a part of which was in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley—again, relating to the hon. Lady’s comments about naming constituencies. Rather than dealing with that, it split whole communities and—with all due deference to my hon. Friends who represent parts of Lanarkshire—proposed to take a significant chunk of Ayrshire and tack it on to
With all due reference to the Minister and his comments about who turns up at public inquiries, the most important contribution that I witnessed at the inquiry in Ayrshire was not from an active politician or an activist of any political party. It was from the Reverend John Paterson of Cumnock, who not only gave us a superb history of Ayrshire and the communities over the years—he talked about the natural links between different parts of constituencies—but explained why, for people living in those communities, the proposals were not sensible. As a result of that inquiry, a more sensible solution was brought forward, which reunited all the different component parts of the royal borough of Ayr and created a rural constituency surrounding it.
The important point is that local communities must have the ability to influence and the opportunity to put their proposals forward. In his summing up, will the Minister say a little more about how it is intended to enable local communities to do that? The reality is that probably most people in Cumnock—I hesitate to say it—had not taken a huge interest in the workings of the Boundary Commission until something was about to be done to them. If they are not involved in the process until that very late stage, it is difficult to get people’s genuine views and involvement. I have not yet heard anything that describes how the process will take place in future. As we have already heard, the Minister has made use of the process. I would like to hear more details about the processes that will be used in future.
Mrs McGuire: I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship on this side of the Committee, Mrs Main. I would prefer to serve under your chairmanship on the other side of the Committee, but we cannot have everything we want. I am delighted to welcome the Minister to his post, and I appreciate that sometimes the technical orders that Ministers are asked to put before a Committee are not always the most exciting. I hope that the process will be more exciting than he anticipated.
I do not want to speak for too long and trespass on the good nature of the Committee, but I would like to welcome the proposals in their entirety. That is not due to the individual proposals, but because they are part of a process that has been well tried and tested over many years. Indeed, there was some controversy in Stirling, which was initially coterminous with a Scottish Parliament seat but has now been divided between part of Stirling district local authority and part of Clackmannan local authority. However, there was a continuity of interest in the area, and although there were objections, it was recognised that under previous local authority boundaries, Clackmannan and Stirling were part of central region, together with Falkirk. There was some rationale to the Boundary Commission proposals.
It is worth reflecting for a few moments on the rules used by the Boundary Commission to come to its conclusions. Rule 1 says that as far as practicable, it must have regard to local authority boundaries. That was always the building block of any parliamentary seat, whether in Scotland or Westminster. The constituency size must be about 54,000, although under the rule concerning the size of the electorate, the Boundary Commission must have regard to rule 1 about the local authority boundary. In Stirling, we were obviously well over that quota—nearly 13,000 over—so we could have little argument with the Boundary Commission about how it tried to divide up the constituency.
The Boundary Commission can depart from rules 1 and 2 if it thinks that there are special geographical considerations. Of course, that was the situation of our colleague from the Western Isles, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, who is no longer in his place. The Western Isles has a tiny electorate, but there has always been the recognition of a continuity of interest across the islands of Lewis, Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Benbecula, Barra and Vatersay. They have an interest that holds them together and can be justified in terms of having their own electoral seat. The same goes for Orkney and Shetland.
Mrs McGuire: If I am not mistaken—I used to be able to rely on somebody to give me the exact figures—it is certainly since 1935. We can look into the geography and the history. I can even go through the MPs if the hon. Gentleman would like.
Mrs McGuire: There we are. Nineteen thirty-five sticks in my mind because I think that was when Malcolm Macmillan took the seat for the Labour party and held it until 1970. He was succeeded by Donald Stewart, and later by Calum MacDonald, who was then succeeded by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. That is the historical analysis, and hope that I got 10 out of 10.
In many respects, the point that I am trying to make is that the proposals we are discussing are the end point of a consensual agreement about how we deal with the potentially controversial issue of establishing electoral boundaries. There is the process that allows local communities, first, to make representations to the Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission has a set of rules that are not restrictive but allow an element of flexibility. Even the Boundary Commission—I have considerable admiration for the work that it carries out—sometimes does not quite get it right, and the process allows external objective assessment through independent evaluations and public inquiries.
I say very kindly and gently to the Minister that the process that I have described has been built up over many years. There is consensus about it in all parts of the House. We respect the consensus. Sometimes we do not get the result that we would like. Some communities
David Mundell: To respond to the first remarks of the right hon. Member for Stirling, I certainly did not think that this Committee would be dull when I saw the list of hon. Members serving on it. I shall go from last to first in responding to those who spoke. The right hon. Lady will know that everything that she and others have said here today has been recorded and is capable of being said again when the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is being debated on the Floor of the House. That is the place and time to have the fullest debate about the proposals in that Bill.
Mr Murphy: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not seeking to avoid answering some of the specific questions that were asked. Of course, it was for you, Mrs Main, to decide what was appropriate, and on the basis that you ruled only one hon. Member out of order, all the other questions were appropriate. It is not right for the right hon. Gentleman to try to body-swerve those questions on the basis that they were not appropriate. I think that he owes us some responses to those questions this afternoon.
David Mundell: I do not intend to do that. I said that in my responses I was working from last to first in the order of those who spoke. The remarks by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun about how the Boundary Commission conducted its business in Ayrshire will also be available to the Boundary Commission and it will welcome her feedback. I should have welcomed her and the hon. Member for Glasgow East to this Committee, because they bring much expertise in the workings of the Scottish Parliament to this Parliament. That in itself is very important.
I have considerable sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire about the naming of constituencies. I refer her to the Boundary Commission report, in which it—I think, for the first time—set out what it saw as its policy on naming constituencies. However, it seems to me slightly inconsistent, given that I represent the constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, that the commission’s stated policy is that names should be short and should not be an attempt to describe the area exhaustively.
Tom Greatrex: I should be interested to know whether the right hon. Gentleman raised that point when he gave evidence to the local public inquiry that he mentioned. Will he correct his memory of that, because my
David Mundell: I do not want to be drawn into being critical of my coalition colleagues, who I am sure were present. The hon. Gentleman knows that on that day the heart of the debate was between Conservative and Labour representatives. Professor Ron Johnson recognised that when he said that the inquiries are
Mr Harris: I am not asking the Minister to criticise anyone, although he should hear what some of his Lib Dem allies say behind his back, but will he confirm that it was the Con-Dem local authority in Dumfries and Galloway who sent a joint delegation to the inquiry and submitted a letter that supported the boundary review? The inquiry had Lib Dem and Conservative input. [ Interruption. ]
David Mundell: If you become more involved in Scottish politics, Mr. Main, you will find that the answer is not what is required—that will have already been marked down. I liked the hon. Gentleman’s question, because he is somebody about whom his friends in the Labour party might say some interesting things. My recollection is that Dumfries and Galloway council administration supported the boundary changes that were proposed in that situation.
It is clear that Labour Members, who are led by the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire in his usual, able manner, have sought to paint a picture of local inquiries being abolished with nothing being put in their place. In relation to the new legislation, that is incorrect. Members of the public, including the member of the Church of Scotland, who was referred to, will still be able to make their representations—thousands of people will be able to do so. It is inconceivable that if, in Scotland, there is concern about a boundary change, people will not make such representations in the numbers that have been discussed today. The attempt is to depict a situation in which a system that we acknowledge has worked in this instance, and in previous instances, is to be replaced by another system. The existing system is not automatically better than the proposed one. All hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate the proposal when the Bill comes before the House of Commons.
I shall answer all the right hon. Gentleman’s specific inquiries, and he might also find page 24 of the Boundary Commission’s report helpful, because it has a graph that demonstrates those constituencies that are below quota, those that are above quota, and the quota variations.
I understand—but I will confirm—that it is entirely a matter for the Boundary Commission to determine whether a constituency is a county or a burgh commission.
Mr Murphy: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for offering to write to me. I am entirely happy with how he wishes to do that. However, as I asked him to write to every member of the Committee, will he state on the record that that is indeed what he will do?
David Mundell: I am very happy to write to every member of the Committee in that regard. Having noted all the comments that Members have made, and that they will have the opportunity to raise their points again when the Bill on parliamentary boundaries comes before the House, I commend the order to the Committee.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 16th September 2010|